Lebanon VA Medical Center
VA Fourth mission; Health care staff deploy to NJ
Nine nurses and support personnel from Lebanon VA Medical Center deployed to various facilities in New Jersey over the last several months to assist citizens as part of VA’s Fourth Mission.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs press release, VA traditionally provides Veterans’ healthcare, benefits and memorial affairs. In times of national crisis, such as the current pandemic, VA provides services to the nation based on requests from states, while being clear that Veterans are the department’s first priority. This is known as VA’s Fourth Mission. The VA has taken a variety of actions to support citizens including: resources to the community, personnel augmentation and more.
The personnel deploying out of Lebanon VAMC all had different experiences but they were tied together with a sense of duty to help their fellow citizens. Here are their stories.
Virginia Halty, RN
I was excited to be able to go. I felt like I was going to become a part of history by going to the front lines of the COVID-19 fight. I felt like I was going to fight a war for people’s lives. Once we arrived at the facility, we knew we were needed since large numbers of staff and residents were testing positive.
My family told me to be careful because I also have a risk comorbidity of hypertension. My family was extremely worried for me and kept in continuous contact. My friends thought I was crazy for agreeing to go on this deployment but wished me the best. During all of this, I lost a cousin to COVID-19; she died three days after my return.
I got to know some GREAT VA nurses from other facilities and that was a spirit-lifter for me. I meet some wonderful people, especially those from Butler. We kept each other encouraged. We had gatherings after work where we could share food, drinks and stories from the day while practicing social distancing.
I would NOT trade this experience for anything. It was a once in a lifetime experience and has taught me a lot about human bonding and the power of prayer.
Residents who were in extreme pain and discomfort were able to find relief with us being there. Veteran families recognized our presence and expressed their appreciation for our service, as did the Veterans. Leaving them brought lots of tears from all of us. The National Guard, Air Force, Army and Marines were also deployed with us. They made great efforts to serve as well. They also gave us a standing round of applause and we experienced two flyovers on our behalf. The administration was grateful as well and provided three meals a day. This was a GREAT experience.
Lisa McGowan, RN
Before going I was extremely fearful and nervous of the unknown and stepping out of my comfort zone. I was doubting my strength and almost let fear talk me out of the assignment. However, I kept feeling a pull at my heart to go and help. Now, I’m so grateful that I was able to silence that fear! All of my family and friends were supportive of my decision to take the assignment but equally afraid for my health and well-being given the statistics of the virus in these facilities.
I was extremely humbled and overwhelmed by the amount of support we received from the nursing home staff the day we arrived. The staff cried, clapped, and cheered to see help arrive ready to work shoulder to shoulder with them in the depths of battling this virus. They were mentally and physically exhausted and needed support.
I had the opportunity to meet some incredible caregivers from our VISN in addition to DEMPS teams on the mission with me. We quickly formed a support group while we were there to lean on each other during those hard moments. Prayer helped. I also went into my shift with a positive mindset that whatever the task, it was making a difference.
I’m very grateful for the experience. I feel I have grown as a person and a nurse and truly feel the care I provided saved lives.
Patricia Shepler, RN
Before I left, I had so much excitement for the unknown. I didn’t know what skills I might use but hoped that I would be useful. I had an extremely supportive network. I would not have been able to do the deployment without them. When I arrived for orientation and saw the magnitude of what we were dealing with, my thoughts were that I wasn’t ready to experience COVID-19.
I honestly felt that I didn’t have a right to complain. The staff at the Veteran’s home were under a great deal of stress, but they still showed up for work the next day. This opportunity was very humbling. The staff were scared but they suited upped and got the job done. I am in awe of them.
Teresa Stump-Klinger, LCSW
I wondered what am I walking into? After getting over some anxiety, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. My friends and family wished me well, offered prayers of safety and good health and said that they were proud of me for volunteering.
I ate healthy meals, maintained daily self-care practices such as: a gratitude journal, daily devotional, taking supplements and diffused essential oil that a friend made specifically for respiratory health. I’m blessed to have the most amazing and supportive co-workers! They sent me uplifting messages via texts and cards and checked in with me throughout my month detail.
It did not take me long to become attached to the residents and their families. My main objective was helping residents stay connected with their loved ones via FaceTime and phone calls, encouraging residents to eat and increase fluid intake. The appreciation from the family’s was overwhelming and the experience was truly a blessing!
Those interviewed for this article, said VA staff should step forward and volunteer when these missions happen. Even though according to Shepler, “It’s a personal choice. It’s not a vacation. It’s hard work -- so take it seriously.”
The opportunity for growth is immense says Stump-Klinger, “It may challenge you, and I guarantee you’ll personally grow from the experience.” Additionally, there is an opportunity to make a difference for those who need it most. “Talk to you family, build a safety plan, protect yourself but GO. It was extremely fulfilling to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” said Halty. And Lisa McGowan says, “Silence any doubt and fear you have and do it. The reward of making a difference in the lives of so many far outweighs the little voice keeping you from doing it”.
“The staff here has done a tremendous job during this challenging health care time,” said Robert W. Callahan, Jr., Lebanon VAMC Director. “We continue to provide safe and comprehensive health care to the Veterans of South Central Pennsylvania throughout the pandemic and our amazing staff have answered the nation’s call when assistance was needed elsewhere.”For nursing opportunities at Lebanon VAMC please contact the Nurse Recruiter at VHALEBNurseRecruiter@va.gov or (717) 228-5948.